Social media companies are leaning into direct messaging

Social media companies are leaning into direct messaging

Pandemic-era social media darling Clubhouse is “evolving”. The company, which culled half of its staff in April amid a major business strategy overhaul, is looking to reinvent itself as a “social messaging” app.

The latest product update is centred around a new chat feature, which it is marketing as a love child between group texts and Instagram Stories. Users will be able to create group texts and DMs featuring exclusively voice messaging as the form of communication.

Live chatrooms, Clubhouse’s original unique selling point (at least, before the feature was copied by other social media companies, such as with Twitter Spaces), will still be available.

While the Clubhouse team is describing its new feature as making the app “more social than other messaging apps,” other popular apps do offer users the ability to send voice messages. However, Clubhouse says it is looking to offer features that provide “depth over reach” and popularise the messaging format in a group setting.

Is there still a place for Clubhouse?

Analysis: messaging key to retaining user engagement

Clubhouse’s big bet comes as a variety of bigger players in social media are turning their focus towards direct messaging as a key way to retain user engagement.

Earlier this week, Axios reported short-form video platform TikTok is seeking to add more social networking and private messaging features as the company is concerned users are externally sharing TikTok videos elsewhere to discuss them with friends. TikTok does offer messaging in-app, but the experience is self-admittedly in “its infancy,” according to a job posting for TikTok’s messaging team.

As social media has become dominated by professionalising creators, average users, while still engaging with content, have taken to sharing images and videos through direct messages and in group chats with friends and family rather than posting publicly as frequently. “Social media is dead. Group chats and messaging apps killed it,” reads a recent Business Insider headline, noting the trend away from using social media to actually socialise with friends.

Wanting to retain in-app engagement, social media companies are therefore looking to improve their chat offerings; hence Clubhouse seeing a potential gap in the market, TikTok looking to improve its DMs, and X (formerly Twitter) seeking to become an “everything app.” X owner Elon Musk announced last month the app is developing video and voice calling features in a foray to expand its personal communications capacity.

Meta, which owns popular messaging apps WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, has an advantage in this space, and has proven direct messaging can also be independently monetisable beyond simply keeping users within an app. WhatsApp, for example, generates revenue through businesses paying to communicate directly with users. Meta can also sell personal and behavioural user data it collects via its messaging apps. According to Business of Apps, WhatsApp generated $906m in annual revenue last year.

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